On Sunday afternoon I was playing house with my five-year-old sister and five-year-old cousin. The girls promptly instructed me to be their mom and began to set up an abandoned cement house as our home. I asked what I should do and my cousin replied, “You know, Mom Things. Cook, clean, tend to the cows.” Right, Mom Things.
My host mom and my mom in the States are my female role models, although their Mom Things are completely different. Here in Serrag, a small, indigenous, rural farming community, I attempt to follow my host mom’s example as my main apprenticeship is to farm with her.
We rise at 6:00 AM to make breakfast, usually some combination of vegetables from our garden and a hot aguita or colada. Aguitas are similar to tea, and coladas are a combination of fruit and oats. By 7:15 my siblings are off to school and my mom and I begin work on the farm. We milk the cows, bring them water, and make sure they’re in a location with ample grass to eat. Milking cows is far harder than it looks; I admire my host mom’s strength as she squeezes the udders with great force and speed. We spend the rest of the morning doing various other chores on the farm: weeding, planting and watering in the garden, peeling seeds to sell at the market, walking down the dirt road to our agave plants to collect their sweet sap for drinking. And we tend to the cows. My host mom unties each cow from its wooden stake, grabs a large stone and pounds the stake out of the ground, walks each cow to a new location with more grass, pounds the stake back into the ground and ties the cow to it. She also brings each cow a large bucket of water, a bucket too large for me to carry without spilling the water. We have eight cows, and she repeats this process at least three times a day.
By lunch time we are sweaty and tired, ready for a break. My host mom makes a lunch of vegetables from the garden, cooked or as a salad or a soup, with chicken or lentils. And, of course, an aguita or colada or the agave water. We also often eat mote, large white corn pellets that my family jokes (but it’s not really a joke) that I need to eat more of so that I’ll be strong enough to do everything on the farm. I’m getting there… After lunch we do more chores near the house, awaiting my siblings return from school. My mom feeds them a hot lunch when they walk in the door, then we all continue to work. First stop: tend to the cows. The afternoon is filled with more physical labor on the farm—and more tending to the cows—before we all sit down to another meal cooked by my host mom. Finally the day is done around 7:30 PM, and we all pile into my host parent’s bed to watch La Esclava Isaura, the family’s favorite soap opera.
My host mom does physical work from dawn to dusk, and she does it all with love and care. My host dad drives a taxi in Cuenca three days a week, so it is often only my host mom on the farm. She does an admirable job with her Mom Things.
My mom in the States has never tended to a cow. And she’s even from Wisconsin. But she, too, does an admirable job with her Mom Things. She balances a full-time career as a lawyer with spending time with and supporting my siblings and me with great poise. I miss her more than I ever thought I would, though I am surrounded by love and natural beauty. That’s just a tribute to her grace at practicing the art of Mom Things.
After a week here, I left for a four-day training seminar with my regional cohort. The night we arrived, my host mom called to make sure everything with the trip had gone smoothly. “Todo bien,” I assured her. My mom asked the same when I first landed in Ecuador, and I assured her, too, that “all is well.” They were checking in on me, the universal Mom Thing to do.
P.S. Mom: I hope this post was worth the wait! xoxo